Rarely do you get from an anthropological point of view something like San Antonio’s Ghost Tracks. It’s a perfect example of an urban legend, but unlike others of its kind, you can actually trace its origin and pinpoint its progenitor.
The Ghost Tracks of San Antonio are a fascinating narrative, they are a great case study into the idea of myth overriding logic and reality. Of a story gaining so much traction that, in spite of it being a total crock, it somehow still manages to manipulate the environment around it and the way society and the masses react to it.
In a way, the Story Of San Antonio’s Ghost Track is a great illustration and representation of how a simple fable can transcend fiction and actually become a fact. It is a microscopic look at the macrocosm that ultimately leads to religious allegories and theological chronicles.
What are the San Antonio Ghost Tracks?
The tale and legend of the San Antonio Ghost Tracks dates back to the tail-end of the 1930s. Right in that area called South Side, on the railroad crossing at Villamarin and Shane, a terrible accident occurred. It was late Fall, a year or two before the 40s smashed into the American consciousness when the nearby elementary school broke for the weekend and the story was born.
The tykes jumped on their school bus and that yellow beast started doing its rounds. Midway, out of the blue, a dense Winter Storm hits the town and blankets the road in a thick layer of fog and hail. The driver, knowing that a storm of this magnitude had to be taken head-on and that stopping in the middle of nowhere wasn’t an alternative, plows ahead and continues dropping his charges at their warm homes.
The bus pulls across the railroad tracks, right on the intersection of Villamarin and Shane… and… the motor stalls. The driver opens up his door, peeks out and sees that the coast is clear. No biggie, he’ll just pop the hood, do his mechanical magic and they’ll keep on trucking no worse for wear.
Less than a mile back, steaming at breakneck speed a freight train bends into the corner that will eventually lead it to that very intersection.
“Any other day of the week, under ideal weather conditions, and the locomotive would have been spotted by the bus driver. If it hadn’t been so foggy, the conductor could have easily hit the brakes…”
The train barrels into the pocket and at the last second its headlights frame the big yellow bus, the brakes are hit, sparks fly, momentum does a backflip, but destiny cannot be averted. The engine’s horsepower was at its peak; it’s too late.
The train smashes the school bus. The collision ends up claiming the lives of 23 children and the bus driver. The 15 survivors face a lifetime of serious physical injuries and emotional scars. It’s a town tragedy that sinks the region into a deep funk.
And that’s when the rumors start to plague the hamlet. Cars begin to stall in the middle of the tracks, ghosts are spotted on a daily basis. Folklore starts making the rounds and old-timers begin to spreading wive’s tale.
“On certain nights, you can still hear the crash. And, if you look at the rainwater that’s pooled on the tracks, look deep into its reflection, you can see the pale skeleton faces of some of the kids that died on that day.”
And it gets even weirder. A planned community starts to develop a couple of yards from the spot and the neighborhood kids begin telling rampant tales of spirits and specters harassing the workers and builders. Like wildfire the tall-tales spread. Heavy John Deere machinery fizzing out. Motors and back-up generators exploding. Sinkholes appearing. Tools disappearing. Foreman losing their minds after spending a night out in the forest near the fabled tracks.
The High School gossip wheel, already with a taste for the macabre, up the ante and…
“The only way they can appease the ghost kids, the only way they could continue working and building the community was by naming the streets after the victims of that tragedy. That’s why they are called Bobbie Allen Way, Laura Lee Way, Nancy Carole Way, Shane Road, Englemann Oak…”
By now, the Urban Legend has earned a place in the pantheon of myths. It’s up there shaking hands with the likes of Zeus, the Llorona, Bloody Mary, the Baba Yaga, and Mickey Mouse.
Oh, but that’s not all. Then, a Halloween tradition hits the neighborhood and folks, galvanized by God knows what, veer into the morbid spot and decide to reenact the 1940s tragedy.
“People started parking their cars on the tracks and watch as kids swarm out of the underbrush and push them out of the way of an oncoming locomotive. It actually became an issue and the local cops have to station a car at the intersection to prevent this kind of horseplay.”
The legend evolves and in the 1990s, locals started to sell talcum powder and make a killing. Why? Because tourists flock to the scene and are convinced that if they sprinkle the tracks with talcum or their cars they can attract the ghost kids.
“Folks were certain that they could invoke the dead kids with the powder and could actually capture their handprints on the talcum. Either on the tracks where the bus was t-boned or on their cars if they left their jalopy on the exact spot where the kids were battered.”
Tales of ghosts, desert orbs, and other odd phenomena started making the rounds. By the early 21st century the place had become a Dark Tourism hot-spot.
But, and here’s the big BIG wrinkle… The accident NEVER HAPPENED.
The whole initial story was debunked ages ago.
The tragedy did occur just a couple of states over. The accident occurred in Utah in 1938 – In the town of South Jordan when a train veering to Salt Lake City plowed into a bus picking up kids for the Jordan High school. Nothing of any importance happened on the railroad crossing at Villamarin and Shane.
Still, nonetheless, the tradition stands and people all over the world flock to San Antonio’s fabled Ghost Tracks. Key chains, magnets, and trinkets are actually sold near the spot and the urban tale persists.
“Folks swear that the area is haunted. Maybe its a case of mass hysteria or people believing in the tooth fairy… But it works for them. I’ve had folks enter my shop, convinced that they knew the real story of what happened on those tracks, a couple of days later they barge in a start flapping their gums… telling all sorts of strange stories and showing me pic’s of handprints in talcum powder.”